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Feb 13, 2020 | FAA, News

Judge rules in favor of drones taking flight in Michigan public parks

This past Monday, after a year of battling it out in court, Judge Joseph Farah granted a permanent injunction that was sought out by the Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators (MCDO) after one of their own, Jason Harrison, was handcuffed, detained, and had his drone and other accessories confiscated even though he was legally flying in a Genesee County park. “The Court prohibits the enforcement of any ban on possession, use, or operation of drones…by the Genesee County Parks Commission and any of its agents, representatives, Rangers, member, officer, directors, and employees…”

The arrest, which resulted in a misdemeanor citation for Harrison that was later dropped, took place back in December, 2018. Michigan law specifically prohibits local government from creating or enforcing their own drone ordinance in MCL 259.305, which is part of 2016’s Act 436 passed that covers unmanned aerial vehicles. It reads:

?(1) Except as expressly authorized by statute, a political subdivision shall not enact or enforce an ordinance or resolution that regulates the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft or otherwise engage in the regulation of the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft.”

Michigan is one of the 17 states in the U.S. that prevents local government from creating their own ordinances when it comes to drone operations. Genesee County’s argument was that they were exempted from the state law.

‘section P910615-Aircraft and Drones

No person shall, upon the property administered by the Commission: Make any ascent or descent, operate or possess any balloon, airplane, parachute, drone, manned or unmanned aircraft on Commission properties or waters, except in designated areas, without first obtaining written permission from the Commission or except as may be necessary in the event of an emergency.”

Hearings held back in October and November looked deeply into both the county’s interest to restrict drones and into the wording of the state law preempting the county’s ordinance. Judge Farah sided with MCDO, stating the state of Michigan’s legislature was clear and binding and could not be overridden by local lawmakers.

MCDO did not seek any monetary damages. They expect this ruling to set a precedent and change the course of legislation for the other 33 states that still allow local counties to establish their own ordinances. As it stands, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should have the sole authority to govern airspace. Local ordinances cause confusion with operators. There should be uniform rules for the operation of drones across the nation.

In an unfortunate turn of events, a statement released by Genesee County revealed their intention to violate the judge’s ruling, claiming that flights within the Class C of KFNT were unlawful. However, MCDO’s lawyer, Dean Greenblatt, gave me a comment: “The “Amendment” sic that was published yesterday on the GCP&RC website was a misguided effort to double-down on the drone ban after the injunction was entered. In fairness, the attorney for the County was unaware of the “Amendment” and did not authorize it. I am informed that the County also didn’t authorize the change to the Park Rules, so they are of no legal consequence.”